Grace For The Journey
Because – as the Bible teaches in Proverbs 21:1 – the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, the Lord squeezes the heart of Artaxerxes, causing him to willingly choose to allow Nehemiah to return to his homeland to lead the massive rebuilding project. Nehemiah travels the thousand-mile distance, taking anywhere from three to six months and he finally arrives.
It could never be said about Nehemiah
That he was a cautious man
He was a man who risked, who prayed,
Who threw caution to the wind, living –
Really living – for the glory of God!
I suspect most of us want to live a life like that. Deep down. How is that possible?
I think it is found largely in Nehemiah’s faith, h
His trust in the One True and Living God,
Much of his faith captured in the last
Verse of chapter 2 where he said,
“The God of heaven Himself will prosper us.”
True prosperity . . . A rich life lived for the Lord.
God has given us riches of life,
True prosperity – we must not settle
For just the world’s riches.
We will learn from Nehemiah this morning about our God who works in our lives for our good and His glory.
Our passage begins in verse 11 which says, “So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days.” This is one of those verses that is easy to read right past. Nehemiah wants to get right to it. He is a big-time leader – No rest for the weary and all that. Yet here we are told he took three days before he started his work. Good leaders, godly leaders, know the value of rest. Nehemiah had made a thousand-mile journey with a caravan of “captains of the army and horsemen” and traveled through valleys, bumps, and difficult traveling. The group travelled as long as six months from Susa to Jerusalem.
Too many people try to justify their positions in life by running around all the time, giving the impression they are “so busy.” Trying to justify their existence. Good leaders know the value of rest. Rest is important. Avoid making decisions when you are fatigued and stressed. Get that rest. Never apologize for it!
Verse 12 tells us, “Then I arose in the night. I and a few men with me; I told no one what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem; nor was there any animal with me, except the one on which I rode (probably a mule or a donkey to best maneuver through the ruins).” Warren Wiersbe has said, “Leaders are often awake when others are asleep, and working while others are resting.”
Nehemiah goes on a secret reconnaissance mission at night in the city of Jerusalem. He is checking out the state of walls – just how bad was it? He had heard and now he wished to see with his own eyes.
This verse raises two questions: “Why at night?” And, “Why does he tell no one?” He says, “I told no one what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem.” Not yet. But why? I think mainly it had something to do with the opposition he would face. Remember on Wednesday we were introduced to these two crafty and anti-God’s work characters back up in verse 10: “When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard of it, they were deeply disturbed that a man had come to seek the well-being of the children of Israel.” It was the last point of application from last time: “God’s will often includes opposition.”
Nehemiah “arose in the night” to reduce the chances of running into those guys and to have time to look everything over and establish his plans for rebuilding. Remember . . .
The presence of faith
Does not mean
The absence of planning.
Remember the cry of the American Revolutionary War: “Trust in God, but keep your gunpowder dry.” Few great men have done great things without a plan.
Verse 13 states, “And I went out by night through the Valley Gate to the Serpent Well and the Refuse Gate, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were burned with fire.” Nehemiah is surveying the situation, riding quietly on his mule in the darkness, carefully inspecting all that he saw. The location of these particular places he mentions in verse 13 and following cannot be known with absolute certainty as the city has been built over several times.
Commentators note that the word “viewed” there is a medical term, used to describe what a surgeon does as he or she carefully examines a wound, probing, exploring, determining what is wrong and how best to correct it. This is what Nehemiah is doing. Probing . . . Exploring . . . Determining what is wrong and how best to correct it.
Verse 14 says, “Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal under me to pass.” This area is at the Southernmost point of the city at that time. The “King’s Pool” a reference to the “Pool of Siloam,” the place where Jesus would heal a blind man telling him to wash in that pool. The King’s Pool was where the water from the Gihon Spring emptied. You will remember King Hezekiah a few centuries before Nehemiah had built a tunnel from the spring to the pool, a tunnel underneath that eastern edge of the City of David. You can go today and walk through a portion of Hezekiah’s Tunnel on a visit to the Holy Land.
The phrase we want to consider in verse 14 is this phrase, “but there was no room for the animal under me to pass.” The picture is of Nehemiah’s inability to move in some places because of the ruin and rubble that was everywhere around him. Stones upon stones. Burned wooden gates. The rubble from the destruction made passage impossible. It was a mess.
Verses 15 and states, “So I went up in the night by the valley, and viewed the wall(picture him there, sitting on his mule, viewing the wall, and after some time …); then I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned. And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I had done; I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, or the others who did the work.” Nehemiah is on a secret mission until he is ready to reveal the plan, to reveal, as he says earlier in verse 12: “what God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem.” After some time of viewing and more planning, we come to the events of verse 17, where he is now standing before the people of the city and he says, “… You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.”
Not the first words of his statement, “You see the distress we are in.” Truth is, many did not “see the distress” they were in. They had become blind to it.
Good leaders see
What others do not.
When I was in seminary in Ft. Worth, I had a part-time job inspecting the hand-held fire extinguishers and water sprinkling system in each building that the seminary own on and off campus. As I made my rounds I walked by a set of apartments for non-students. One Halloween one of the residents proudly displayed a carved pumpkin there on the stoop. It looked like most Jack o’lanterns at Halloween. But as Halloween passed, the pumpkin remained. It was there the week after Halloween, and the following week, and the week after that. I do not have to tell you what a carved pumpkin looks like after several days! And what is smells like! That rotten pumpkin folded in on itself and collapsed into an orange-black blob. The remarkable thing is, that the family living in the apartment had to walk past it at least twice a day – once in the morning and once in the evening, right past the rotten pumpkin. Finally, as I passed on my rounds, I thought I would just go over and take care of it myself. I did not want to embarrass or insult them, so I sneaked over and grabbed the grotesque glob of grossness and took it to its final resting place in a seminary dumpster nearby!
The point is . . .
You can grow so accustomed to things
That you just walk right by them day after
Day without even seeing them.
Things that need changing in your
Life, your work, your marriage,
Things that need changing
In the church.
Good leaders see
What others don’t.
Verse 17 says, “Then I said to them, ‘You see the distress that we (he includes himself) are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.’” Do you see that was Nehemiah’s real concern regarding the ruins? It is in the last part of verse 17, “… that we may no longer be a reproach.” Remember: the wall was broken down because of their own sin. God’s people rebelled against Him in unfaithfulness to Him and God sent Nebucadnezzar of Babylon to lay siege to Jerusalem, breaking down the walls, burning the gates, burning the temple, and carrying the people away into captivity. The discipline of God. In Jeremiah 24:9 God had declared, “I will deliver them to trouble into all the kingdoms of the earth, for their harm, to be a reproach and a byword, a taunt and a curse, in all places where I shall drive them.”
So Nehemiah says to the people, “It’s time now to change all that. We have sinned, we have confessed, and we have repented. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.”
God’s name was at stake!
It was more about
The name of God
Than his own name.
It is not about him,
It is about his God.
He does not say, “Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that I may build a name for myself!” It is, “Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that God’s name may no longer be a reproach.”
Verse 18 states, “And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me. So they said, ‘Let us rise up and build.’ Then they set their hands to this good work.” Nehemiah shared how God worked in the heart of the king, causing him willingly to choose to allow him to travel from Susa to Jerusalem to rebuild. In essence he is saying, “God is in this!” The people are inspired and say, “Let us rise up and build.” And “they set their hands to this good work.”
I am glad they responded that way. I am glad the people did not point out to Nehemiah that what he was asking them to do had been tried before to no avail (see Ezra 4). I am glad there was no one around to say, “We have tried that before and it did not work!” Or, “We’ve never done it that way before!” By the way, those are the seven last words of a dying church.
It’s not always easy to motivate complacent, religious people. Like the boy who misquoted Matthew 22:14 where Jesus says, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” A modern translation of that has been offered, “Many are cold and a few are frozen.” No, as Nehemiah will say later in Chapter 4, verse 6, “The people had a mind to work.”
The people had a mind to work
Because they could see God in it!
They could see the
Hand of God at work.
They could see that
Their ruinous situation
Was not irreversible!
And your ruinous situation is likewise not irreversible! The same God can change things. Do you believe it? Remember again that God’s will often includes opposition.
Verse 19 shows us that, “But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab (they picked up a follower! A new recruit! When they …) heard of it, they laughed at us and despised us, and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Will you rebel against the king?” Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem: the unholy trinity. Anyone who has ever dared to do anything great has faced opposition. Anyone who has ever dared to succeed has been ridiculed by those who hoped he would fail. Adrian Rogers said, “The door to the room of opportunity swings on the hinges of opposition.”
Nehemiah says, “They laughed at us and despised us,” and they said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Will you rebel against the king?’” That was a serious charge. Never mind that Nehemiah had a letter that carried the king’s endorsement. His enemies assumed he had deceived the king who surely would not be for this rebuilding project if the king knew what kind of people these Israelites really were! They are accusing Nehemiah and the people of rebelling against the king? Rebelling against the governing authorities.
Perhaps we hear something of that today in some sense: “What is this you are doing, Christian? Rebelling against the people? Rebelling against the governing authorities, rebelling against popular culture, secular laws, and commonly accepted beliefs and decisions regarding gender, marriage, or abortion. Rebelling against the sinful sway of our postmodern culture; going in the opposite way of the mass of humanity.”
It is important that we recall the Bible’s warning in Proverbs 14:12, “There’s a way that seems right unto a man, but the ways thereof are the ways of death.” Following Christ will raise the ire of those who go the broad way to destruction while Christians travel the strait and narrow way that leads to life. Do not be ashamed of the Gospel and the Bible when you face opposition. For the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation and God’s Word is the truth about God’s way of loving and living. Fear not the one who has authority only over your physical life and has no authority over your spiritual life. Do not fear the president, elected officials, judges, or the electorate. We serve a greater authority, a Great God.
Verse 20 tells us of Nehemiah’s response, “So I answered them, and said to them, ‘The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem.” That last phrase of this verse is a way of saying, “You guys do not follow the one true God. You stand in opposition to Him.” Nehemiah could say that because he was convinced they would oppose the Lord’s work at every turn. And they do as we will see in coming studies. Nehemiah trusts in “the God of heaven!” He says, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us.” He was not worried!
These verses that we have looke at today raise two probing questions . . .
1) What “Persian Palace” has Become too Comfortable to You?
We must never forget that Nehemiah was once living in a nice palace with comfortable surroundings. When he heard about the reproach of God’s people because of a wall that remained in ruins . . .
He was willing to leave the comforts
Of the Persian Palace for the
Risky work of doing something
Great for his great God.
What do you do when you hear about people in need, unfinished work for the kingdom, or unreached people groups across the globe? Are you willing to leave the comfortable to do the uncomfortable? You have got a nice situation, a comfortable situation, and a routine. You are used to it. What is God calling you to do?
The life of salvation is not a call to indolence and sloth. We are not simply to sit around and bask in the glory of forgiveness, justification, and the reality of the abundant and everlasting life that comes through Jesus. The live of salvation is to lead to working, to doing, to growing and serving, and to living out our faith. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The only man who has a right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ.”
Don’t be the cautious man who never really lived. Dare to discover what God’s will is and then to do t. Going on that mission trip . . . Sharing the Gospel with someone today . . . Teaching that class . . . Giving to God’s kingdom work . . . Tithing to support God’s local work . . . Starting a Bible study at work . . . Talking to a family member or neighbor about Christ and His church. What “Persian Palace” has become too comfortable? Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring experience or nothing at all.”
That leads us to the second probing question . . .
2) Why Do You Do What You Do?
I love the statement by Nehemiah in verse 12 were he said he had not yet told anyone “what God had put in my heart to do.” That should lead all of us to ask, “What has God put in my heart to do?” Why do you do what you do?
Nehemiah does not promise the people any
Material good or gain, no money, or no trophies;
Just working for the name of God and His glory.
Why do you do what you do – church attendance, small group Sunday Bible Study participation and teaching, giving? Why do you work your job 9-5? Why that job? Surely not just for financial reward. Do you see your job a mission? Do you see every aspect of your life as God’s work and mission?
I pray you see your life as more than just a way to make a name for yourself or to gain some things out of life. You will die one day and very likely be forgotten pretty quickly, except by your family as close friends. Sorry! It is just the truth.
We have got to live for a
Name greater than your own.
You have got to do something greater than a checklist for your job, home, and family. You have got to live for something more than vacation getaways and material things. That is empty stuff that will die with you.
True prosperity is enjoyed when we live for God, when we fight for the cause of God. David was just a scruffy little shepherd boy when all Israel was scared to death of the giant Goliath. David asks, “Is there not a cause? Why should this Philistine defy the armies of the Living God?!”
Could it be that you struggle with that recurring private sin, because you are not really living for God, the God who longs to prosper you with real life? Why do you do what you do? What has God put in your heart to do?
Today, it is not that God’s name is at stake in the city of Jerusalem. For us today it is that God’s name is at stake in the Body of Christ. His name is at stake in the lives of His children. What needs changing in your life but you do not see it because, like ruined walls that need attention, you have just been walking right by it day after day, like a rotting heap of ruin. What gates in your life need attention? Are you allowing things to come through a gate that is bringing destruction and taking you captive? The gate of your mind – allowing thoughts to enter in, thoughts that are unhealthy? Then as the Bible says in in 2 Corinthians 10:5, “… bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”
The gate of your eyes – are you allowing yourself to watch things that are ungodly, or looking at things that are immoral? Then “pluck it out” as Jesus said, put it to death and then rebuild. Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ (Romans 6:11).
Some of you would say, “My life is in ruins. I need help. I need God.” There is a Greater Leader than Nehemiah. There is a Greater One who did a work on our behalf to repair, restore, and to rebuild our ruinous lives. When we recognize that we ourselves are powerless to rebuild the walls of our lives and helpless to put out the flames that have charred the gates of our morality and threaten to burn us entirely, then we are in a position to turn to this Great God who does the great work for us through our Great Lord, Jesus Christ.
It was Christ Jesus who lived and died
On our behalf “that we may no longer be a reproach.”
Jesus on the cross absorbing the wrath of God
That would otherwise consume us for our sin.
Jesus Christ in our place.
Trust our great God. Trust in Christ and be saved from the wrath to come. Trust Christ and be saved from the ruin of sin, the ruin of death, and the ruin of the judgment to come. Turn to Him this morning by faith.
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”